Advertisement

Acorn: Vegetables Re-Imagined celebrates the vibrant dishes of beloved Vancouver restaurant

Shira Blustein is just fine with the idea that her new cookbook might, for some, be more of a coffee table decoration than a how-to kitchen guide.

Article content

Acorn: Vegetables Re-Imagined: Seasonal Recipes from Root to Stem

Shira Blustein and Brian Luptak | Appetite by Random House

$40, 304pp


Shira Blustein is just fine with the idea that her new cookbook might, for some, be more of a coffee table decoration than a how-to kitchen guide.

“For us, it was really important for it to kind of be like an art book in a lot of ways. Just to show the body of work,” she says. “And if people get cool recipes out of it? Awesome. That’s obviously very exciting.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The leeway afforded to those who pick up the colourful creation, Acorn: Vegetables Re-Imagined: Seasonal Recipes from Root to Stem , that she created alongside Chef Brian Luptak may stem from Blustein’s own inability to spend much time cooking at the moment.

“As a mom of two right now, I’m like, ‘when will I ever cook again?’,” Bluestein says with a laugh. “I don’t know when that’s going to happen.”

These days, she admits, her plate is pretty loaded.

With the book completed, Bluestein, who is the owner of Vancouver restaurants The Acorn and The Arbor , has the breathing room to look back at the project and acknowledge how big a task it was to take on.

“Knowing now what it really takes, it’s a considerable amount of work when you’re also running two restaurants and then you decide to have two children on top of that,” she says. “The windows to do the work are few and far between.”

A cookbook was always part of the business plan when Bluestein opened the doors of the award-winning vegetarian restaurant The Acorn in July 2012. So, when the opportunity presented itself with the right publishing partner — Appetite by Random House — it was simply too good to pass up.

The resulting book represents a colourful interpretation of a year’s worth of dishes at the restaurant.

“People will see what was on the menu at the time when we wrote the book,” Blustein explains. “And some standing favourites. And then some things that we come back to year over year.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Celebrated for its exploration of the “limitless possibilities” of vegetables, the eatery — and the resulting cookbook — present a “hyper-seasonal, super-local” approach to plant-based eating.

“We’ve always set out to be more than just a vegetarian, plant-based restaurant. And, hopefully, this book shows all of the little things that we do,” Bluestein says.

Designed to highlight the complex elements of the dishes the restaurant has become known for — “There may be 10 different components that took a significant amount of consideration that went into that dish,” Bluestein says — the co-author admits the book may not be the best option for those who are looking for an on-the-fly weeknight meal.

“If you want to just pick up a book and go, ‘OK, what are we going to make for dinner tonight?’ No,” she says. “But, granted, if you’re a decent at-home cook, you can go through the book and find a recipe.

“You could kind of really mix and match things symbiotically through this book, seasonal or not. So that’s kind of fun.”

For those who’d like to go “full Acorn,” as Bluestein puts it, the book includes detailed chapters on creating homemade vinegars, oils, preserves, cocktails, grower profiles and much more. 

“You might need to pick spruce tips in the spring, freeze them and then bring them out in the winter,” Bluestein says. “So, if you really want a deep dive into what we’re doing, you’ll see that a lot of what we’re doing is super seasonal and that we’re working with a lot of seasonal ingredients. And we’re also preserving and preparing things to use throughout the year.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

When prompted to pick a favourite dish among the inventive options on offer in Acorn: Vegetable Re-Imagined, Bluestein demurred, opting instead to point to one that she finds most unique.

“There are so many really cool recipes in there that I can’t pick a favourite,” Bluestein says. “But, the Vegetable Bottarga that looks so unremarkable in this book, it is made as a flavour enhancer. Bottarga is usually made from cured fish roe.”

The Acorn iteration uses dehydrated vegetable scraps that are cured into a “log” that can be shaved on top of dishes.

“I think it’s a really cool recipe,” Bluestein says. “It’s like the least sexy, but it’s the most, maybe, nerdy one.”

While Luptak has since moved on from being the head chef at The Acorn — a testament, perhaps to just how long the cookbook creation really took — Bluestein says the culinary creative still remains “ very much a part of the family.” And the completed book will live on as a physical reminder of the duo’s work together.

“It’s still a really important snapshot of time in place for us,” Bluestein summarizes of the book. “And I think that’s really special.”


Cauliflower Risotto

1 recipe Cauliflower Mushroom Stock (see below)

1/4 cup (60 mL) finely diced onions

2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

3 cups (750 mL) Carnaroli rice

1 cup (250 mL) white wine

Salt, to taste

1 tsp (5 mL) white pepper

Place the Cauliflower Mushroom Stock in a medium pot and bring it up to just under a simmer. Maintain the temperature of the stock so that it’s at the same heat as the rice.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

In a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, sweat the onions in the olive oil until they are soft and translucent. Add the rice and toast for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the white wine and cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Season with salt and white pepper.

Ladle in 1 cup hot Cauliflower Mushroom Stock. Let the stock cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is a little dry and screaming for more liquid.

Add another cup of stock and stir until dry again, then add another cup of stock. Continue this process until the rice is cooked to a creamy texture, making sure it’s still a little al dente; you may not need to use all the stock. Check for seasoning and serve immediately.

Serves six. 

Cauliflower Mushroom Stock 

1 cup (250 mL) cauliflower mushroom, stalks reserved from Sautéed Cauliflower Mushrooms (see below)

1 cup (250 mL) sliced white button mushrooms

1 large onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic

3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil 1 tbsp salt

1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced celery 2 bay leaves

1 tbsp (15 mL) peppercorns

4 cups (1000 mL) Fermented Celery Leaf Water

Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, mix together the cauliflower mushroom stalks, sliced white mushrooms, onions, garlic cloves, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, and the salt. Spread the mushroom mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast on the lower rack of the oven for 15 minutes or until nicely caramelized (this gives more body to the stock).

Remove from the oven and transfer to a large saucepot. Add the remaining olive oil along with the celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, celery water, and 12 cups water. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Strain the stock through a large-holed sieve or strainer. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Makes 12 cups.

Sautéed Cauliflower Mushrooms 

4 cups (1000 mL) cauliflower mushrooms, stalks trimmed and reserved for Cauliflower Mushroom Stock (page 60)

2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

Salt, to taste

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) pepper

Wash and dry the cauliflower mushrooms and cut into 2-inch pieces. Heat a frying pan on high heat and add the olive oil and mushrooms. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Fermented Celery Leaf + Fermented Celery Leaf Water 

4 cups (1000 mL) roughly chopped celery leaves and stems

2 tbsp (30 mL) salt

2 tbsp (30 mL) sliced garlic

Note: This recipe takes four days to ferment, so you’ll need to make this in advance!

Wash the chopped celery leaves and stems well. Then, using your hands, massage the salt into the leaves and stems, making sure it gets into all the folds; don’t be afraid of bruising them. Transfer the celery leaves and stems to a sterilized 64 oz Mason jar or glass container. Pour in 4 cups water and the garlic and stir.

Fill a resealable plastic bag half-full of 2 per cent salted water and seal it tight. Float the bag on top of the liquid, using it to keep the celery leaves and stems submerged under the water. Secure a towel or piece of cheesecloth over the container (rather than using a lid) so that the liquid can breathe — this is an important part of the fermentation process to let gases escape. Allow the leaves and stems to ferment at room temperature for 4 days, checking every day to make sure the leaves and stems are submerged.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

After 4 days, strain the liquid into a separate jar or container, using a spatula or spoon to press the celery leaves and stems into the strainer to get as much liquid out as possible. Reserve the leaves and stems in a separate airtight container. Store both the leaves and stems and the container of celery water in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 4 cups leaves + 4 cups water.

Potato Cauliflower Nests + Crispy Fried Cauliflower 

1 tbsp (15 mL) salt + more for seasoning

1 tbsp (15 mL) cream of tartar

4 Yukon Gold potatoes

1 head cauliflower

3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil

Pepper, to taste

8 cups (2000 mL) canola oil

Note: This recipe requires a spiralizer, which is a tool used to turn vegetables into long noodles. It is best to choose potatoes that are an even oval shape, as this will produce longer, more uniformly sized noodles.

In a large bowl, stir the salt and the cream of tartar into 12 cups water. Wash the potatoes thoroughly, keeping the skins on. Using a spiralizer, process the potatoes into long noodles, creating the longest pieces possible. Add the potato noodles to the water and soak for at least 5 minutes, but no more than 10. This will help soften the potatoes, making them less brittle when you wrap them around the cauliflower.

Trim the cauliflower’s outer leaves and set aside six florets, approximately 2 inches each. Take the trim, stalk, and other scraps of cauliflower and roughly chop into smaller pieces, then add these to a food processor. Pulse until they’re the size of rice grains. Measure out 2 cups.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

In a large bowl, season the reserved cauliflower florets with the olive oil and some salt and pepper, and toss to evenly coat. Using five or six potato noodles per cauliflower floret, tightly wrap the noodles around each floret, making sure to overlap two or three times. You can make these 1 day in advance and store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to cook

Line two plates with a kitchen towel or paper towel. Place the canola oil in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot. Using a pot thermometer, bring the oil up to 350°F. Working in small batches, fry the Potato Cauliflower Nests in the oil, rotating and flipping them until they are uniformly crispy and there are few to no bubbles of moisture escaping from the potato. Using tongs, carefully remove the nests from the oil and transfer to one of the prepared plates. Season with salt. After the nests are complete, working in batches, carefully sprinkle1/4 cup cauliflower scraps into the hot oil; be careful, as the moisture from the cauliflower will initially bubble up. Fry until they are an even golden-brown colour and there are no more bubbles of moisture coming up.

With a slotted spoon or spider, carefully remove the cauliflower and transfer to the other prepared plates. Season with salt. Repeat until all the cauliflower has been fried.

Makes 6 servings.

Plating

1 recipe Cauliflower Mushroom Risotto

1 recipe Sautéed Cauliflower Mushrooms

1 recipe Potato Cauliflower Nests

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

1/2 cup Pickled Oxeye Daisy Buds or capers

1 recipe Crispy Fried Cauliflower

Lay out six bowls. Evenly distribute the risotto between the bowls and add the Sautéed Cauliflower Mushrooms. Place one Potato Cauliflower Nest at the centre of each bowl, and top with 1 tbsp Pickled Oxeye Daisy Buds or capers. Finish with 2 tbsp Crispy Fried Cauliflower sprinkled over each plate.

Excerpted from Acorn: Vegetables Re-Imagined: Seasonal Recipes from Root to Stemby Shira Blustein and Brian Luptak. Copyright © 2021 Shira Blustein. Photography by Gabriel Cabrera. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Latest National Stories

Advertisement

Story continues below

News Near Tillsonburg

This Week in Flyers